Skip to main content

100 Albums: "MTV Unplugged" by Alice In Chains

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Alice In Chains
Title: MTV Unplugged
Released: 1996
Genre: Acoustic Metal/Grunge


Alice In Chains had pretty much run their course when they put on this concert. They hadn't performed in 2 and a half years. 1995 had seen the release of Alice In Chains, but they didn't do anything else that year. They'd broken up for six months and been plagued by singer Layne Staley's heroin habit. This performance was recorded in April of 1996. They would put on their last performance with Staley in July of that year, after which he would disappear into his addiction and eventually die of an overdose in 2002. Writer and co-singer Jerry Cantrell would start a successful solo career, and the band would reform with new singer William DuVall in 2006.

I love Alice In Chains, and part of what I love about this album is that it is part greatest hits collection, part heavy metal deconstruction, and part swan song for Layne Staley. Their sound was defined by the way Staley's nasal vocals were layered over top of each other and against Cantrell's throaty baritone. Hearing these songs rendered acoustically takes away the buzzing vocals and crunching guitars and strips the songs down to their core melodic elements and simple Staley/Cantrell harmonies. Songs like Over Now, Down In A Hole, and Rooster really benefit from this rendering.

The performance is rough, but there's an honesty to it that I find compelling. They goof off and make mistakes. It's not captured on the album, but if you watch the DVD of the concert, they stop Sludge Factory and start it over because Staley flubs a lyric. The vocals on the chorus of Heaven Beside You sound out of key, and the guitar solo just doesn't land right. And then there are the little improvisational moments, like Cantrell riffing before they play their last song. Metallica were in the audience and had just cut their hair short, so the band poked fun at them. Bassist Mike Inez played a few bars of Enter Sandman which Staley introduced as an L.L. Cool J. song. It's a weird joke and not really funny, but it's also a very honest moment between friends having a laugh.

Further Listening: Jar Of Flies is the studio almost-an-album where they messed around with writing almost exclusively on acoustic guitars, and it produced two incredible songs: I Stay Away and No Excuses. Their self-titled album has studio versions of Heaven Beside You and Over Now and is a pretty solid album in its own right. Dirt is kind of scattershot, but it has more good songs than bad and several of their biggest hits.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

100 Albums

Hello all!

In an attempt to keep the old blog from atrophying, I'm going to try out a project a friend of mine did a few years ago and spend the year writing about some of my favorite albums. So over the next 50 weeks, you can expect a couple entries a week until we get to 100. Or until I run out of steam and give up. Whichever comes first.

The only rule I'm giving myself here is to limit things to one album per artist. If that would preclude other favorite albums from making the list, I'll note it, but I don't want the list to be completely overrun by Radiohead and the Beatles. I'm going to start at the top of the list (that is, with my #1 favorite), but the ordering is not super rigorous--especially beyond the first twenty or so.

I'll put a master list on a page that's easily accessible from the front and I'll probably throw in some supplemental stuff, like albums I loved as a child but can't really listen to anymore for various reasons or albums …

"Writing Lots!" by Dawn Vogel

Hi, I'm Dawn, and I'm doing guest post here on Kurt's blog. I write fantasy, steampunk, YA, and pretty much anything else that looks shiny for a moment. You can learn more about me here! Today, I'm talking about how I write as much as I do.

I've been writing since I knew how to do so, but I've been writing with an eye toward publication for about eleven years. As I've gotten more comfortable with the craft of writing, my productivity has increased dramatically. In the first six years I was writing seriously, I wrote fewer than twenty short stories, all told. Over the next three years, I increased my output and wrote about a dozen stories a year (with an occasional poem mixed in). Last year, I wrote 38 short stories/flash and 6 poems. This year, I've already surpassed that, and it's only September.

In analyzing how I've increased my output so dramatically, I've found three main keys to my prolific writing: 1) planning, 2) stolen moments, and 3)…

100 Albums: "Untitled (IV/Zoso)" by Led Zeppelin

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Led Zeppelin
Title: untitled
Released: 1971
Genre: classic rock


Is there a more epic album opening than Black Dog? Plant screaming "Hey, Hey, Mama..." and a trio of musicians exploding into that proto-metal riff behind him? There's a reason Led Zeppelin is always included in discussions of who might be the greatest rock band of all time: Plant's bluesy wail, Bonham's impossibly huge drum sound, Page's guitar work--and tone, when people talk about "vintage guitar tone" they're talking about Jimmy Page--and Jones's bass and keys (bassists are the unsung heroes of rock, and Jones's bass work here is low-key phenomenal). They're an iconic band, and this is their most iconic album.

Officially untitled, but commonly referred to as either Zoso or IV, this record is not only their best-selling, but it contains their most well-known song, Stairway To H…